The Fez ~Part Two


In The Fez ~ Part One I told the story of how my granddad came by his fezin Constantinople. This week’s post is about the general history of the fez and the more particular history of my granddad’s fez of which there is no sign. My Dad claims never to have seen it though his oldest brother Billy swore blind that he remembered it. Billy, who I did not know that well died in April of this year at the age of ninety, was a ‘personality’, a raconteur who, in the interests of entertainment, embellished some of his stories so maybe he made up remembering the fez but granddad certainly writes that he took one from the unfortunate taxi driver as a souvenir.

Regarding the general history of the fez it apparently  was originally made in Fez in Morocco, the red colour coming from berries that grew only there. I have read that for some reason the route to Mecca was suspended for a while during the middle ages and Fez became an alternative and due to the influx of pilgrims, the popularity of the fez spread. But I cannot find any other reference to  this. However Fez was a major gathering point for the caravans that travelled across the Sahara to Mecca which would brought the fez east to Turkey.

The fez fell into disregard until, in 1826, after Mahmud II, who had suppressed a rebellion of the Janissaries, reformed the military, choosing the fez as a modernisation of the cumbersome turban, which he eventually banned. In one fell swoop, the fez then became a symbol of modernity and remained so for the best part of the century. Due to demand in Turke,y fez makers moved to Constantinople from North Africa. By the early 20th century, in part due to the development of synthetic dyes, Austria had become the main fez manufacturer.


The Zouave, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888. The Zouaves, a French military division, were first raised in Algeria in the first half of the 19th century.

The fez was adopted by the military of various countries but it had some major design flaws. Firstly,the red colour of many military fezzes made the wearers head into a tempting target for the enemy (doh) and secondly, worn without a scarf or turban, it provided no protection from the sun. It was this accompanied by the cyclical nature of fashion which shifted the fez from being a symbol of modernity to a sign of old traditions and backwardness. The fez would be banned by Ataturk in 1925, five years after my granddad liberated ‘his’ fez from its original owner. Ataturk’s ruling not only put many fez makers and pressers out of work, due to the meaning that headwear often holds for Muslims, the law triggered revolts that were brutally put down. For the military of other countries, by the time World War II  came a round, the fez was largely abandoned.


A shop in Constantinople which pressed Fezzes. December 1919. Photo George Swain. (Leontis, Talalay, 2006).

Most telling was Swain’s image of a fez-pressing shop. Swain photographed the storefront with an open door. Inside men were doing business, but Swain’s picture does not allow us to enter the scene. The barely visible drama of exchange happens behind a dark glass. It gains its poignancy through the perspective time brings. The picture becomes a relic. When it was taken, who knew that the fez would soon become extinct just after reaching its prime? From where we stand, we look at the photograph and see the store’s impending doom.

(Leontis & Tantalay, 2006)

The fez-pressing shop was located somewhere along a stretch known as Divan Yolu, the Road of the Divan, which becomes Yeniçeriler Caddesi, the Avenue of the Janissaries which today is a bustling street of internet cafes and McDonald’s restaurants. Leontis & Tantalay also write that Europeans in 1920 in Constantinople would wear fezzes as a symbol of respect and obedience for the Muslim rulers.

This particular season the fez’s popularity reflected Kemal Mustapha and his nationalist sympathizers’ successes in Anatolia. It symbolized the desire of Christians and foreigners working in the region to deflect Muslim hostility. Now when Muslims and Christians raised their heads at the same time, they could be compared to a horizon of burning roof tiles.

(Leontis & Tantalay, 2006)

If this is the case my granddad’s robbing of the fez could conceivably have put an unfortunate taxi driver in danger. The fez came in a variety of colours and shapes and was sometimes wrapped around the base with scarves. Tassels were very important, the weight and the way they swung had meaning as was the way they were tilted. A tassle was to a fez what a shirt is to a tie. Fezzes also required maintenance….

…it should often be brushed and shaped. The craftsmen who mold the fezzes were very busy. First, the tassel was removed and the fez was put on a yellow brass mold which was heated in the oven. Then the craftsmen sprayed water before putting it on a mold again. Five minutes later, the second mold was lifted up from its handles and the smoking fez was worn on the head. If the craftsmen, who were mostly Greek, did not have equipment for spraying water, they sprayed it with their mouths.

(Ekinci, 2016)

My granddad’s fez is most likely is sitting gathering dust in some dark hostelry in one of the counties granddad was posted to when he finally joined An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police force, literally Guardians of the Peace ) in 1923. A fez would have been a grand talking point down the pub and maybe even would have been worth a few large bottles of Guinness. It occurs to me now I should go on a tour ~ a pilgrimage if you will ~ around the hostelries that were near my granddad’s early postings but in the mean time, if anyone has seen a fez in the vicinity of any of the townlands below let me know…

Castledermot (Co.Carlow)

Lemybrien (Co.Waterford)

Ferrybank (Co.Waterford)

Pilltown (Co. Kilkenny)

Ballinamult (Co.Waterford)

Graiuguenamanagh (Co. Kilkenny)

Clonaslee (Co.Offaly)

Hackballscross (Co. Louth)

Baldwinstown (Co.Wexford).

I will get around to writing a little more on these postings later on. Next week Port Said, Kantara and home…

Further Reading & References.

Ekinci, E. B., Fez: A time-honored Ottoman hat from the Mediterranean,in The daily Sabah, may 16th, [online], available at [accessed 6/10/2018].

Leontis, A., Talalay, Laurent, A Days Journey, Constantinople, December 9th,1919 , in The Michiigan Quarterly review,
Volume XLV, Issue 1: The Documentary Imagination (Part Two), Winter 2006
Permalink: %5Baccessed 6/10/2018].

MenWit, (2018), The Intriguing History of the Fez Hat You’d Love to Read Through, [online], available at %5Baccessed 6/10/2018].

6 responses to “The Fez ~Part Two

  1. How mad that Austria of all places became the main manufacturer for what is ostensibly Muslim headwear. It would be cool if grandads Fez turned up, I suppose anything could have happened with it. Lovely to be back to grandads doings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I knew nothing about the fez, except that it came from Fez.

    I didn’t find Tommy Cooper funny, either. If anything, he was a bit frightening. The eleventh Doctor wore a fez. Perhaps he should get a mention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now you mention it, he was a bit scary…I think his act didn’t do it for me…but oh the puns!…I never got into Dr. Who. I must investigate….and the fez was a symbol of exoticism in men’s fashions for a while in the west around the turn of the 19th/20th century. Thanks April 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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